Our role as a parent comes with many tough challenges. Bedtime is often one of the tougher challenges. Helping your young children create healthy sleeping habits can feel like an impossible mission, especially when it comes to babies.
In this article, you will find answers to many parents’ questions about their child’s sleeping habits, along with suggestions for improving your child’s habits. You won’t find an expert with a list of “right ways” to do things because, as a mother myself, I know better.
What are Sleep Habits?
In his book, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg defines a habit as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” (Duhigg, 2014)
Sleep habits are the patterns that we follow pertaining to our sleep. For example, how often we sleep and for how long.
How Much Sleep Should My Child Get?
One of the biggest factors in creating healthy sleep habits is the amount of sleep your child gets. The amount needed varies based on exact age.
On average, children of this age group need between 10 and 17 hours of sleep each day, including naptime. However, the same range varies by age.
The table below will help better estimate a healthy sleep time based on age.
|Child’s Age Range||0–3 months||4–12 months||1–2 years||3–5 years|
|Recommended Hours of Sleep||14–17 hours||12–16 hours||11–14 hours||10–13 hours|
These estimates are for a 24-hour period, including naps during the day. So it isn’t an estimate of how long a child should sleep at one time.
How Can I Improve My Child’s Sleep Habits?
You can do many things at home to help your child fall into healthier sleeping routines. But, most importantly, trust your intuition and knowledge of your child’s personality while considering which suggestions you try to work into your child’s routine.
One of the best ways to create a good pattern for your child is to establish a healthy bedtime routine. You can include many things in their bedtime routine that promote healthier sleep.
Here are a few suggestions for creating a good bedtime routine:
- Consistent timing: try to start their bedtime routine around the same time every night and keep the steps to the routine falling around the same times. For example, if you do bath time at 6:30, set a time limit for the bathtime so that you’re consistently moving to the next step around the same time every night.
- A warm bath: This is an excellent want to start the unwinding process. Not only will they begin to learn that the tub means it’s close to bedtime, but it can also help them relax.
- Low Lighting: Use minimal lighting while you go through the steps of your routine. They will start linking this soft lighting to sleep time, which will likely help them unwind.
- Limits: Limit sugar and caffeine, especially closer to bedtime.
- Screen Time: If screen time seems to stimulate your child, it’s probably best to avoid it during their bedtime routine.
- Quality Time: One of the most comforting things to your child will always be you. (Even when it doesn’t always feel that way.) Take some time during their bedtime routine to read, sing, talk, etc.
- Soft Music: Playing music quietly as your child falls asleep could help soothe and relax them.
Even for infants, creating a consistent environment for bedtime is helpful. Even though you know they’ll be back up, establishing a consistent routine for bedtime at an early age can save you a ton of stress in their toddler years. (Take it from a mama who’s been there and didn’t consider a routine in the infant years the first time.)
Another helpful tip is to base your times on your child’s ques. For example, have you noticed that they’re a little more prone to tantrums around certain times of the day? Starting a bedtime or naptime routine before they reach this degree of tiredness could save you and your child a lot of frustration.
How Can I Help My Child Avoid Bad Sleep Habits?
Avoiding bad sleep habits in children can be a tricky subject, given that what’s considered a bad habit in some households may be okay in others. While countless experts offer differing opinions on what’s best for your child, it’s perfectly okay to go with your instincts and do what works best for you and your child.
You can help your child avoid bad sleep habits by defining the habits you want to prevent and remaining consistent in enforcing your decisions.
A good starting place is defining what should be considered a bad sleep habit for your child. Asking yourself the following questions will help you pinpoint what you wish to avoid:
- Do I want my child to sleep alone, or is it okay if they sleep with me?:
- Do I want to stress self-soothing or provide instant comfort?
- Is it okay if my child has a snack before bed?
These questions bring stress and frustration to many parents as they try to figure out the correct answer. I personally know the stress of worrying that you aren’t doing things the right way.
“Mama Knows Best” (And Dad, of course!)
For a long time, I too worried about how to determine which of the million different “right answers” I found in my research was actually the right one. However, let me assure you that there isn’t a right or wrong answer.
If there were one set answer that was true for every child, all of the experts would be in agreement, but they aren’t. They would probably be out of a job if they told you that your instincts are more than sufficient for determining what the best sleep habits are for your child and the best ways to achieve them.
As with most things in parenting, finding the best sleep habits for your child may take some trial and error. It’s okay, and it’s totally normal!
If the first things you try to implement aren’t a good fit, don’t give up! A positive mindset is crucial. View the experimental process as an opportunity to better understand your child’s needs and what matters most to them.
Duhigg, C. (2014). The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Anchor Canada.